Countries in crisis: A new approach to rebuilding the future | Jordan Ryan

08 Nov 2013

Shop owner cutting hair Jean-Marie, 42, was forced to leave his village due to conflict, now he has returned home and dishes out the latest hair styles to a steady stream of customers at his barber shop. Photo: Aude Rossignol/ UNDP in Burundi

Around the world, 1.5 billion people live in a place affected by conflict or violence, waiting, often for decades, for something more than a temporary respite from death and destruction.

Throughout my 20 year career at the United Nations, I have seen my share of conflicts come to an end. For instance, Liberia recently marked a decade of progress towards building lasting peace. However, often countries relapse into violence and chaos because underlying economic, social and political causes are not properly addressed.

If donors and organisations took a longer-term view of conflicts and crises, and continue to build upon immediate humanitarian responses to focus on sustainable development goals, they could help prevent recurring violence and eradicate the sources of conflict.

In communities, this means re-integrating those displaced by conflict and former combatants, and providing young people with job skills for future employment. This can help participants set aside their differences, rebuild their destroyed communities and create new business ventures.

From our experience in Burundi, we have learned that targeting specific groups such as former soldiers, people displaced by conflict, or refugees is not enough. The approach needs to be inclusive and has to focus on integrating all excluded groups into their communities through conflict mediation and long-term employment. When former enemies work side-by-side to rebuild their communities and create businesses together, they have an economic interest in suppressing violence. Past hostilities and deep-rooted antagonisms begin to erode.

In a recent visit to Burundi, I could begin to see a difference. According to a recent UNDP report, more than 17,000 former combatants, displaced people and refugees have participated in its work schemes and an average of 70% of these people chose to further invest their savings. Thousands of Burundians have now used these savings to start small businesses, ranging from solar-powered hair salons and collectively owned clothes shops, to honey production and eco-tourism ventures.

Similar efforts are now being implemented in other post-conflict countries, such as Yemen and, soon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. National recovery can only happen if the underlying causes of conflict are addressed. Individuals need to have a stake in the peace process and find ways to work together as active agents of change. Only then will lasting peace be more than a dream.

Talk to us: How can we better reintegrate former combatants in their communities and bring about lasting peace?

See the full version of this blog on The Guardian

UNDP Around the world